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First prison sentences ordered for PCB violations

By CRAIG WEBB

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Two businessmen have been sentenced to prison terms for dumping toxic PCB-laced oil along North Carolina roads, the first time jail sentences have been ordered for PCB violations.

U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt sentenced Robert E. 'Buck' Ward of Raleigh to 2 years in prison Monday and fined him $200,000 for the dumping of PCB-laced oil along North Carolina roads in 1978. Robert J. Burns of Jamestown, N.Y., was sentenced to 1 years in prison. Both were given five years probation.

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'This is the first criminal conviction involving jail time since PCB regulations were first implemented in 1978,' said John Ulfelder, head of the Environmental Protection Agency's legal section for pesticide and toxic substances.

Ulfelder said an Idaho firm was fined $3,500 last fall for dumping a small amount of PCB in a rural section of that state.

Another EPA criminal enforcement officer, who declined to be identified, said he recalled only four or five environmental cases of any type in which active prison sentences were imposed.

Sentencing in the case had been delayed until all criminal proceedings had been completed, the result of a 1979 plea-bargaining arrangement with Burns, who agreed to testify against Ward.

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The two men and Burns' two sons -- Timothy and Randall -- were given five years probation in the case Monday. All four were ordered to perform environmental clean-up work during their probation.

Ward, who was acquitted of state charges in 1979, was convicted May 22 of violating federal PCB regulations, which require the toxic chemicals be incinerated.

PCBs -- the chemical abbreviation for polychlorinated biphenyl -- is used as an insulator in electrical transformers. It has been linked in laboratory tests to cancer in mice and rhesus monkeys.

Prosecutors contended Burns and his sons took PCB-laced oil from Ward's transformer business in Raleigh and dumped it along state highways in 10 counties.

Ward denied knowledge of the illegal dumpings. But Burns testified last month that Ward agreed to the first dumping -- near Fort Bragg -- when the two men decided the contaminated oil could not be resold or quickly moved to Burns' Pennsylvania warehouse.

Burns said Ward also was aware of at least 10 other PCB dumpings.

The federal judge Monday fined Ward $25,000 for each of the eight counts of which he was convicted, the maximum allowable under the federal statute.

Britt said he may reduce the criminal fine, depending on the outcome of several civil suits against Ward.

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During the sentencing hearing Monday, U.S. Attorney James Blackburn said Burns in particular showed a 'carelessness, perhaps laced with arrogance' regarding the statutes.

Roger Smith, an attorney for Ward, argued that until the early 1970s, PCB-laced oil used to be tossed onto dirt roads to keep down the dust.

'For years, millions and millions of gallons of this stuff was dumped along the highways of North Carolina and this nation,' he said. 'These people have added to that environmental load 7,500 gallons ... We're not saying what they did was right. But we are saying it was an environmental drop in the bucket.'

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